What Is "Normal" Skin Exactly, and Does Anyone Really Have It?

Updated 04/12/18
What is a normal skin type?
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A couple of years ago, when esthetician Renée Rouleau determined I was a #6 combination skin type using her nine-part diagnostic skin type test, I felt like I suddenly understood an important part of my identity. I was in the combo-skin club, and along with my fellow members, I could lament the trials of having both dehydrated skin and clogged pores while dry skin and oily skin types could bond with their respective club members and exchange advice about what products work best for them. It's great to have allies in the quest for problem-free skin. However, among the main skin types, there has always been one mysterious category whose club members remain so elusive to me that I wasn't even sure they existed: I'm talking about "normal" skin.

You see this phrase, "normal skin type," all over the world of skincare: on product packaging and instructions, in articles offering skincare advice. And yet, as common as it is to read about "normal" skin, I don't know a single person who identifies this way. Plus, since "normal" is a subjective word, not a descriptive one like dry or oily, you have to wonder: What is "normal" skin anyway? Is breaking out or getting dry patches not "normal?" If it isn't, does anyone really have "normal" skin? And either way, does this skin type perhaps deserve to be renamed?

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According to board-certified dermatologist Heather Woolery-Lloyd, creator of Specific Beauty, when brands market their products to "normal" skin types, they're generally directing them at folks who meet a few specific (ideal) criteria: few to no blemishes, no sensitivity, minimally visible pores, and balanced hydration levels. Folks with this skin type don't tend to feel dry or greasy, they almost never break out, and their skincare maintenance is pretty bare-bones.

If you're drooling at the thought of having such a skin type, just know it's not exactly common. "In my 40 years of dermatology practice, I find the majority of people have some combination skin up until about 30, and the majority of people over 40 feel their skin is dry," comments board-certified dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo, founder of the newly launched Dr. Loretta skincare line. "Be warned most of us don't have 'normal' skin."

Wisconsin esthetician Lauri Shea agrees in a post on her blog: "Since getting the oil-to-water ratio balanced is the ultimate goal of all skin types, if you fall in this category where your skin naturally produces the ideal amount of oil, you simply hit the genetic jackpot."

"Normal" skin isn't just rare, however—some experts say it doesn't technically exist at all. This is simply because "normal" isn't a medical term, but instead a label invented by skincare brands. "In my dermatology practice, I don't tell anyone they have 'normal skin,' since this is not a clinical term, but instead it's used as a guideline in the description of skincare products," Ciraldo explains. "For a skincare product, it refers to people with no major problems; so, if your skin is sensitive, rosacea-prone, oily, acneic, dry, or post-procedure, you may need to stay away from some products that say for 'normal' skin since there is a chance that the product could aggravate your skin condition." By Ciraldo's measure, if you see the word "normal" on a skincare label, you (sometimes, not always) might consider it "a bit of a warning."

Skin Types
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The other major problem with the term "normal" is that it isn't specific enough to help anyone pragmatically figure out what products and habits would work best for their skin health. With her patients, Woolery-Lloyd often uses the Baumann Skin Typing System, a series of questions to determine one's skin type out 16 different options. The categories in this system include oily versus dry, sensitive versus resistant, pigmented versus non-pigmented, and wrinkled versus tight. Because this diagnostic is more specific, it's also more accurate, rendering a label as vague as "normal" nonexistent. "Using this system, for example, my 'normal' skin is actually DRPT (dry/resistant/pigmented/tight)," says Woolery-Lloyd.

The bottom line is this: If you're serious about improving your skin health and getting a real diagnosis, know that no dermatologist or esthetician worth their salt will slap with a "normal" skin type and send you on your way. It simply isn't a focused or detailed enough description and, thus, unhelpful. Not to mention, the word itself rubs many skin experts the wrong way. "I do think it is a little odd to say 'normal' skin since the opposite of normal is abnormal, which is kind of negative," comments Renée Rouleau.

"The term 'normal' in skincare has always really bothered me," agrees Lauri Shea. "Is there such a thing as a 'normal' skin color? Of course not. … Too dry or too oily skin is far more common than what the skin care industry considers 'normal.'"

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